Organic production increases in California desert - The Packer

Organic production increases in California desert

04/26/2012 02:35:00 PM
Tom Burfield

A number of desert growers are implementing or expanding organic programs to meet increasing consumer demand.

Richard Bagdasarian Inc., Mecca, Calif., for example, is expanding its organic table grape program, said president Nick Bozick.

“We’ll have multiple proprietary organic varieties this year and conventional organic varieties also,” he said.

The company plans to ship sugraones and flames as well the new Sweet Enchantment, Magenta, Krissy and the numbered 2-38 varieties — to which it will have exclusive rights in the Coachella Valley.

“We hope that down the road, these will be better than some of the conventional varieties and possibly more efficient to grow,” Bozick said.

Organic grapes account for at least 15% of the company’s grape volume.

“It’s not huge, but it is growing, and we see it growing more based on the demand we have,” Bozick said.

The company also offers organic red and green bell peppers and eggplant, said Franz De Klotz, vice president of marketing.

The program enables the company to offer organic versions of items for which it has gained growing expertise on the conventional side, and it saves customers the trouble of having to make multiple stops to obtain organic produce.

Since organic produce commands premium prices because of added production inputs, like hand weeding, and pest control limitations, it remains a niche market that “doesn’t pencil out for a lot of people on a grand scale,” De Klotz said.

But it makes sense for a company the size of Bagdasarian.

“There’s definitely a base of business forming that’s here to stay,” he said.

Anthony Vineyards in Bakersfield, Calif., has been in the organic market for 10 years and continues to experience good demand for its product, said co-owner Robert Bianco.

One-third of the company’s grapes are organic, he said, adding, “We’ve been expanding every year.”

The category remains a niche market, but it’s expanding to mainstream supermarkets, at least in a limited way, he said.

“Everybody wants some, and that’s created the demand,” Bianco said.

Getting back into the game

Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., is returning to the marketplace with organic red peppers, said Mike Aiton, director of marketing.

The company didn’t have much success with them a few years ago, but “several customers have been clamoring for them,” and Prime Time plans to launch a 40-acre organic program around May 20, shortly after it kicks off its conventional peppers.

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